August 21, 2012

The Great American Road Trip - Missoula

Continued from The Great American Road Trip - Driving to Missoula via Walla Walla.

Missoula was not my idea, it was my husband's. The idea of living through a cold, Montana winter so, so far from everywhere else, was not terribly appealing to my logical mind, but at the same time, I will let you in on a little known secret, ever since I was in third grade and I hear "Montana" I get the most thrilling feeling of freedom and beauty. It's as if its remote location is a pass to do whatever you want and no one will care because there is so much space and freedom for everyone, yet, there are enough people that if you want to, you can call them together and there you have a community. But this is not at all based on any facts I know whatsoever and I didn't even set foot in the state of Montana until about twelve years ago and even then, my limited experience of Montana includes only a long drive across the state and a cold evening walking the entire length of downtown Bozeman with a vagabonding Aussie.

Our hostess in Missoula is Lyndsay, a transplant over a decade ago from Akron, Ohio and her boyfriend who is at least from Montana, Billings, to be exact. He is very nice, but I can't quite understand her. She is a very slight thing who rents out the master bedroom of her very small home on a very modest street. She has three huge, barreling, barking dogs, one of which is Lena, who likes to play with Poppy, despite a very large size advantage. Lyndsay has large brown eyes and when I ask a question about Missoula, she looks completely offended, until she answers with emphatic friendliness. I can't tell if she hates me or wants to be my friend. People have told me that I am hard to read and I wonder if this is how they feel when they can't quite figure me out. That thought does not sit well with me (note to self: work on being more accurately expressive) and I decide to give Lyndsay the benefit of the doubt, she is just a hard to read, friendly person.
Poppy and Lena

I like the idea of staying in a residential community rather than in a hotel/motel, it gives you a better idea of what it might be like to live there. The previous night, I learned about the river trail, a park trail system that runs along the Clark Fork River, the river that runs through downtown Missoula. I awoke early with Poppy and took her for a "barefoot" run/walk along the trail. When I say "barefoot" I mean my Vibram FiveFingers shoes, the "barefoot" running shoes that I have been acclimating to over that last month. Other than a few sprints with the dog across the park, this is my first real attempt to run in them. It is a beautiful morning and we meet several friendly dog owners who allow their dogs to play with Poppy (good for Poppy, not great for keeping my heart rate elevated). The trail goes through a tunnel to a nice riverside park which I admire for about 30 seconds before a herd of shirtless, young runners burst from the tunnel and stampede past us. We continue on along the river, with obscured views of downtown, the air is cool and dry.
Morning Run in Missoula

Missoula is a small city in a flat valley (my observation) created by five different mountain ranges, which cause it to have some of the mildest winters in Montana (something I read). It seems that several mountains on the east and north appear to rise right from the edge of town, in one long, sweeping carpet of dry, golden grassland.
Hills rise behind Missoula
Missoula and the Clark Fork River
Poppy, Paul and I walked downtown for a late breakfast/lunch at Justin's Hob Nob. We waited for a table outside and munched on a Montana burger (mediocre) and banana bread french toast (good).
Sitting outside of Justin's Hob Nob
Afterwards we walked up and down the streets of downtown Missoula, checking out the various businesses. I bought a card reader for my cameras at the photography store and learned that Missoula is home to a photography school. At a bookstore I asked the owner if she had any contemporary books by Montanan writers, and after an uncomfortable search, I came away with two that seemed fitting for me, Rurally Screwed by Jessie Knadler (who I learned was going to be in Missoula the following week) and Why I Came West by Rick Bass. I asked the bookstore owner about her thoughts on Missoula and I come to find out she isn't even from Montana, she is from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, not too terribly far away from where I grew up (depending on the context). She didn't seem overly excited about Montana and warned me that it is very expensive to fly in and out of Missoula.
Walking in downtown Missoula
It was starting to get really hot out and I noticed I walked in any tiny bit of shade I could find. Paul stopped to check out an Aikido dojo, the owner was sisters with the owner of the dojo in Santa Cruz, apparently. Then I sat outside a coffee shop, under an umbrella talking to a couple about Montana while Paul went in search of a haircut. The couple, whose names I have forgotten, maybe Jack and Jill, are from Helena where they are teachers and own some property in Missoula where they will eventually retire. She is from Great Falls, Montana and he is from Duluth, Minnesota and he ran in the Boston Marathon twice. They love Missoula and told us it would be a lovely place to live, but we should bring a job with us. Hmm..., there doesn't seem to be any larger companies here, which is a stark contrast to tiny little Hood River, Oregon who is the home to Full Sail Brewing Company, Tofurky and Dakine.
Sitting outside the coffee shop
We walked back to our room along the river trail, trying to coax Poppy into the shallow waters with balls and sticks. She seemed a bit more brave then yesterday, but still very timid and afraid of the water.
This water is a little intimidating to Poppy.
Poppy dipped a couple of paws in the creek.
Later in the afternoon we drove around outside town, going west, then northwest, then east, driving back to the ends of the roads, where pine trees started to sprout up. We admired some of the homes and picked up a few flyers for properties for sale. Nothing was really appealing to me. It just seemed too dry.
Dry landscape around Missoula

The road toward the pine covered mountains.
The end of the road, in the forest.
An intriguing gravel road outside of Missoula.
A typical neighborhood outside of Missoula.
In the early evening we walked back into town to Caras Park, which sits between the downtown businesses and the river on a stout little hill. There was a rock band playing on stage and dozens of food carts and booths set up. Paul and I took turns going for food and beer. It was at the tent to buy a beer, that I met Annie, where she was working. She is a University of Montana student and her dream is to one day go to San Francisco.
On our way to Caras Park
The food trucks and booths at Caras Park.
A tattoo, only in Montana?
We watched the sun set behind us and in the waters of the river was a fly fisherman. This place has a nice community feel, a lot of people were out for a Thursday evening with their dogs and kids or friends. It is a town that has a lot to offer, which is good since it is so far from everywhere else and so far, I really like the people here. But it seems so arid. Could I live here? Could Missoula be my next home?
The sun begins to set in Caras Park.
Fly fishing next to the park.

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